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05.07.2021

The People Don't Give Up, Damn It! Temístocles Machado Archive and Monument: For the Defense of the Buenaventura Territory

As a tribute to land rights defender Don Temístocles Machado, researcher David Gutiérrez and artist Liliana Angulo Cortés share with us the living memory of a community that resists the developmentalist and ecocidal imposition of the Colombian government.

Temístocles Machado Rentería was a community leader of Comuna 6, Buenaventura, Colombia, including the neighborhoods Isla de la Paz, La Cima, and Oriente. He was a member of the Civic Strike movement and a human rights defender, archivist, and documentarian, as well as an empirical lawyer. Temístocles Machado Rentería was murdered on January 27, 2018.

Grupo Memoria y Archivo de la Comuna 6 [Memory and Archive Group of Comuna 6] is a group organized around the legacy of the life and struggle of “Don Temis,” made up of leaders and artists who have come together to continuously demand a just life for the Black and Indigenous communities of Buenaventura facing port finance capitalism. Artist Liliana Angulo Cortés has collaborated with the community on cultural practices, memory, documentation, and intervention in the territory’s community spaces as relevant actions for this struggle. This is their story.

BUENAVENTURA, VALLE DEL CAUCA, COLOMBIA

Inhabited mostly by Black and Indigenous communities, Buenaventura is a city district located in a bay on the Pacific coast of Colombia. It is home to the country’s main port. The first port terminal was located on Cascajal Island. With the expansion of the city, rural areas of the territory of Buenaventura were incorporated into the urban area on the mainland. The city is located in the middle of mangrove ecosystems and a marine reserve threatened by the expansion of the port.

BUENAVENTURA’S PORT DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The entire territory of Buenaventura is considered to be within the port development and expansion plan slated to occupy areas inhabited by the communities as well as flora, fauna, and maritime natural reserves.

In the case of the Oriente, La Cima, and Isla de la Paz neighborhoods located on the mainland along the El Aguacate estuary, they are seen as parking, cargo storage, and logistics areas. Since they are crossed by the Vía Alterna Interna corridor, their location makes them a prime target, which has generated multiple processes of violence that include deceitful expropriation of land from families by the state, usurpation of land through false private deeds for storage areas, parking, and port development, as well as areas with high crime rates, and an oil pipeline that bisects the community. This is imposed development that does not include the visions of the community and only benefits investors interested in new docks, a cargo airport, container storage areas, and tractor-trailer parking. This type of development only benefits international capital and free trade agreements between countries that are part of the Pacific Alliance.

TERRITORIES RECLAIMED FROM THE SEA—CASCAJAL ISLAND, BUENAVENTURA
The Indigenous inhabitants of Buenaventura have been affected by development projects since the beginning of the maritime terminal, which were exacerbated by the privatization of the port. Due to the port’s growth, the communities of Buenaventura have suffered expropriation, displacement, violence, unemployment, and exclusion from their own land. Coastal capitalist interests have caused communities to be expelled from low tide zones and see their livelihoods threatened as they are denied access to the sea and therefore their ability to provide for themselves through fishing. In response to this, the communities that historically inhabited stilt houses have fled to the flood zones in order to gain land with access to the sea to build their houses and continue their relationship with the maritime ecosystem that guarantees their food sovereignty. State and private port development and expansion projects now seek to expropriate this community-generated territory. New displacements are generated through violence and terror.

«These neighborhoods that you have seen are not urbanization made by the state […] these neighborhoods are made by hand and on the shoulders of the same community carrying a stick, pulling a shovel […]» — Don Temístocles Machado

WHERE DOES DON TEMÍSTOCLES COME FROM?

Don Temístocles is part of a lineage of community leadership. His parents Juan Evangelista Machado and Raquel Rentería, from Bagadó, a former Maroon community in Chocó, were among the first settlers of the area now known as Barrio Oriente. Subsequently, Barrio Oriente was divided, giving rise to the neighborhoods of Isla de la Paz and La Cima. Their first family home in Buenaventura was affected by the construction of Simón Bolívar Avenue, the result of the highway to the sea that connects the port with the city of Cali and the interior of the country. The family later relocated to the Oriente neighborhood, and history repeated itself with the construction of the Vía Alterna Interna.

COMMUNITY WORK OF DON TEMÍSTOCLES

Temístocles Machado was an activist in defense of the territory and the rights of the community in the face of development projects imposed by the state. He was president of the community action board of Barrio Oriente. As a social leader and cultural and sports manager, he was able to build and improve community spaces. He was a leader in love with his territory and the culture of its community. Faced with land usurpation, threats, and violence generated by imposed projects, he became an empirical lawyer as a strategy against judicial and bureaucratic corruption. He developed an archival practice to preserve information from legal proceedings for the defense of rights, documenting the memory of the community and environmental impacts. Through his struggle, he denounced structural racism, was a promoter of territory debates, and a member of the Civic Strike committee to live with dignity and peace in Buenaventura. Over time, the leadership of Don Temis transcended his community and intersected with other social and political processes in Buenaventura related to struggles throughout the territorial due to port expansion that does not take the community into account. The violence in Buenaventura responds to the macro-projects, presented to generate terror and displacement of its inhabitants.

 

TERRITORY OF BLACK AND INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

The territory of Comuna 6 where Barrio Oriente is located was a rural area where these families developed their agricultural, fishing, and mining activities. Subsequently, the first settlers in the area founded neighborhoods and established forms of coexistence based on the traditional collective organization of the Black and Indigenous communities, such as Minga[1] and mano cambiada;[2] they created roads, public services, schools, recreational areas, and public community areas. The founding families of the area still preserve documents of the first settlers and memories of their achievements. In Colombia, the visual memory of Afro-descendants has generally been mediated by the gaze of outsiders. These images of families are valuable because they show daily family life in the Comuna 6 neighborhoods of Buenaventura on their own terms.

DOCUMENTATION OF CULTURAL PRACTICES

Anticipating environmental damage and territorial harm caused by government development projects and third-party interventions, Don Temístocles undertook activities to document and recognize the communities’ lands in order to defend them. He defended the traditional practices of the Black communities that maintain a relationship of sustainable reciprocity with the environment. These images from Don Temis’ archive show the El Aguacate stream, the estuary, and native crops. Before the construction of the Vía Alterna Interna, Don Temis conducted tours of the territory as a strategy of recognition and control of the estuary, and community awareness around the protection of the territory and its ecosystem. The mangrove ecosystem is a fundamental part of survival and food sovereignty for these communities. They fish and also navigate the estuaries as a way to transport their crops and timber to the Buenaventura market. Activities native to the territory include fishing, gathering seafood, and artisanal mining. Don Temístocles Machado documented the cultural practices of the community because one of his greatest dreams was that they would be able to preserve their ways of inhabiting this territory. Now the land, estuaries, streams, and rivers have been invaded by land-grabbers, and water resources have been polluted.

DOCUMENTATION OF DEVELOPMENT INTERVENTIONS
Images from the archive of Don Temístocles Machado showing the impact on the territory before and during the construction of the Vía Alterna Interna that crosses Comuna 6. As a result of development interventions, the ecosystem’s flora and fauna have deteriorated. The El Aguacate estuary was originally used by the community as a water source (in the absence of an aqueduct system) but today it’s contaminated and cannot be used.
Don Temístocles documented processes of corruption and structural racism. The institutions in the city of Buenaventura do not recognize the land rights of the Black communities. But the same institutions validate the occupation derived from the usurpation of the territory by third parties with false land titles.
VIOLENCE THAT HAS AFFECTED THE COMMUNITIES OF COMUNA 6
The Vía Alterna Interna is the transit route for more than 3,000 trucks per day entering and leaving the port areas with cargo. It crosses the community’s land, thus generating the growth of the port logistics areas. As a result, community land became more attractive to usurpers, multinational corporations, and white-collar thieves.
After the assassination of leader Temístocles Machado, the land destined for community projects has been usurped and occupied by third parties. The struggle to defend the land continues for community leaders.

«I am from the countryside and I can never forget my roots, where I come from; by the fact that I am in the city I don’t stop being Black, no! ” — Don Temístocles Machado

RADIO CONVERSA, PROJECT BY OSCAR MORENO

In the program, Don Temístocles Machado, who had a prodigious memory, describes how communities populated the area in the twentieth century. He also explains the violence to which they had been subjected, and the community struggle in the face of state-imposed and port expansion projects that seriously affect the area. In November 2017, we reached an agreement with Don Temístocles to work with his archive and the community. How to communicate the archive was the question to be answered which gave birth to the Archive and Memory Group of Commune 6.

THE ASSASSINATION OF DON TEMÍSTOCLES MACHADO
Don Temístocles Machado was murdered on January 27, 2018 for defending the human rights and territories of ancestral Black and Indigenous communities. The murder occurred in the Los Nativos parking lot in broad daylight while he was making a phone call. In the newspaper photo you can see the magnitude of the Buenaventura community presence at his funeral.
Problems related to land tenure caused by the master plan for the development of the Port of Buenaventura did not enter into final negotiation agreements between community leaders and the government that had been ongoing since 2017 starting with a civic strike he led.
The community gathered to express their sadness, to protest, and to pay tribute to all the leaders killed in Colombia. At least 753 community leaders have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016.

REENCOUNTER WITH THE COMMUNITY—LABORATORIO CARRETERA AL MAR / THE GRIEF
Meeting spaces for listening to Don Temístocles on Radio Conversa and reflecting on his thinking and struggle were coordinated. Initially meetings were only organized in the different neighborhoods as part of the commemoration of the 2017 Civic Strike. These activities were pretexts to bring the community together. A series of documentaries were planned, on the situation of Buenaventura and port projects in the Pacific region, as well as on the community’s resistance against the disaster that could be caused by a planned port development in the Tribugá Gulf Maritime Natural Reserve on the Pacific coast of Chocó, as depicted in the short film Tribugá presented by David Paredes of the Puerto Creativo Collective.
Meetings are held in the community houses of the neighborhoods of Isla de la Paz, La Cima, and Oriente, in which we listen to the voice of Don Temístocles narrating the settlement and the struggles of the community. Listening to the recording of the interview was the catalyst to share and process the sadness of his death in a community-based way. These meetings were the first places where people met again after his murder. Listening to his voice provided a catharsis through talking about the impact of the loss. The collective mourning and hope that the Civic Strike agreement still produced motivated people’s sense of community and the desire to continue working together.

“This has led us to create an exercise of kinship between us […] to discover the power we have.” — Don Temístocles Machado

COMUNA 6 MEMORY AND ARCHIVE GROUP
The Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6 is the result of an artistic workshop proposed by Liliana Angulo called: For the Defense of the Territory of Buenaventura: Temístocles Machado Archive and Monument.
This workshop has defined lines of action: to generate traveling exhibitions, manage and continue to activate a documentation center, direct community work for the defense of the territory by documenting the memory of the settlement, carry out urban interventions in the territory (murals and signs about the history and community struggles), community organizational strengthening, and educational work. The work of the Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6 is based on the search for the stories of the first families that populated the territory; their memories and family albums are alternative sources for learning more about the history of the community.
THE ARCHIVE OF DON TEMÍSTOCLES AND THE ARCHIVE AND MEMORY GROUP OF COMUNA 6
The Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6 is composed of the leaders of the three neighborhoods mentioned above that Don Temístocles had been recruiting for the work of the archive and the memory of the community. Don Temístocles’ dream for these young people of the community was to strengthen new leadership and create a space that would function as a museum of community memory. The work the group did was based on the needs expressed by the community for the creation of a monument to the memory of Don Temístocles Machado. The voice of Don Temístocles in the recordings made in 2017 ended up being the gateway to understanding his archive.

THE MONUMENT TO DON TEMÍSTOCLES AND THE SITES OF COMMUNITY STRUGGLE

The Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6 identified nine community spaces that represent Don Temístocles’ struggle for the defense of the territory of and its communities. In these spaces, signs marking the chronology of the settlement were built, and they are part of the monument to Don Temístocles Machado that expands throughout the neighborhoods of Comuna 6. Between these spaces a connection was generated that also functions as a way of traversing the territory through the denunciations, violent events, and victories of the community.

The mural painted on the Barrio Oriente Bridge over the Vía Interna Alterna marks one of the main victories of the community led by Don Temístocles Machado against the city’s road administration. The mural was intended to “humanize” the Vía Interna Alterna, a highway where the constant traffic of trucks and cargo makes the communities that live in the area invisible.

THE PROCESS OF THE MURAL MONUMENT TO DON TEMIS
The Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6, along with the Rostros Urbanos [Urban Faces] youth organization, sought to pay homage to Don Temis through a monument that would pass on his struggle and thinking. On the other hand, they sought to visibilize the violence that their communities have been subjected to. The projection of Don Temístocles’ image was in itself a powerful act for the community, which greatly valued seeing his presence in the territory once again. Truckers in solidarity stopped for a moment and held back the intense port traffic to allow the artists to project the image of Don Temis on the wall of the bridge. The image that circulated on social media moved the people of Buenaventura who were still in mourning. Many people didn’t know the objective at first, but shared the gesture on social media.

“[In the seventies] the community was very civic […] mingas were practiced a lot—a minga is when a group of neighbors, friends, residents of the same sector, unify in order to carry out an activity in search of well-being for the same community.” — Don Temístocles Machado

COMMUNITY WORK AND SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTER
The Archive and Memory Group of Comuna 6 continues to use artistic strategies to mark the history of the ancestral settlement of the Black communities and the importance of the legacy of community struggle to empower the defense of their territory. In this sense, they also work with allies in various contexts to raise awareness among other communities about the situation in Buenaventura. As part of this process, they have held the exhibition Temístocles Machado Archive and Monument: For the Defense of the Territory of Buenaventura at the Galería Santa Fe in Bogotá as part of Contra-información [Counter-Information], the 45th National Artists’ Salon. Among the leaders’ current projects are a second mural on the Vía Alterna Interna in the Oriente neighborhood, a productive chicken-raising project with families, an environmental project for the restoration of bodies of water, and a sports and cultural club for children and adolescents. Annually, on January 27, activities are held to commemorate the life and legacy of Don Temis as part of a tradition of spiritual encounter.

CREDITS
Grupo Archivo y Memoria Comuna 6 (María Elena Cortés, Arcesio Izquierdo, Ana Campaz, Delcy Castro, Juan David Romero, Patricia Herrera, Juan Rodrigo Machado, Eloisa Machado, Magno Machado, Carmen Chávez, Janer Panameño, Hernán Rodríguez, María Esilda Estacio, Oscar Moreno Escarraga, María Santos Caicedo, and Liliana Angulo Cortés); the communities of La Cima, Isla de la Paz, and El Oriente
PRODUCTION
Asociación Cultural Rostros Urbanos—Jonathan Hurtado
PAINTERS
Jose Luis Rodríguez Garcerá and Lenz Smith
COLLABORATOR
Luisa Jaramillo Angulo, Temístocles Machado Archive and Monument Laboratory coordinated by Liliana Angulo Cortés; carried out within the framework of Carretera al Mar, Goethe-Institut Kolumbien and Museo La Tertulia.

All quotations throughout this article are fragments of the conversation with Don Temístocles Machado as part of Radio Conversa, chapter: Ciudadanías Ancestrales, a project by Oscar Moreno Escárraga.

Notes

  1. “Minga is established as a historically constructed process which has its beginnings in the social struggles developed [in Colombia] from the seventies until now. It has become a stage where the social sectors have been in constant search of a space of recognition and autonomy both in the public and private spheres, where they no longer fight about difference (as they did in the nineties). Rather, it is that difference that unites them and allows for each social organization to become involved in a joint project, through the construction of platforms of action and struggle for common objectives and in accordance with
    the common good.” Alen Felipe Castaña Rico, La minga de resistencia social y comunitaria: construcción de proyecto de movilización popular bajo lógicas de articulación intersectoriales [Minga as Social and Community Resistance: Building a Public Mobilization Project Under the Logic of Intersectional Coordination] (Universidad ICESI, 2017), 7

  2. Local ancestral practice that means “trade exchange.” It is based on solidarity and peer relationships over money.

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